writing by Ben Follington

Leave it better than you found it

July 16, 2019

I have no idea who coined the phrase & I’m far too lazy to look it up but it’s one you’ll hear often as a software developer. Generally when we use this in the context of programming we mean that we should attempt to improve a piece of code when we work on it. What “improve” means here is subjective, but you’ll hear developers say things like “loose-coupling” and “clarity” when explaining it. We all have our own definition of what good code looks like and it often doesn’t align with other developers’ preferences. Regardless, over time this process leads to an incremental improvement in the quality of the entire codebase.

This pattern, while obvious to most developers, has much further reaching implications. For a quaint example it’s a reliable way to keep your house clean. If you open a draw to get something out spend 30 seconds tidying it before you shut it. When you go to place your hoard of empty mugs in the dishwasher, collect the other dishes next to the sink. These mundane domestic benefits probably don’t entice you much, I just think more people need to clean their mess up.

No, the point I really want to make is that this principle applies all over the place. When you spend time with a friend or loved one try to leave their life a little better than when you first saw them that day. Maybe that means helping them move house or maybe it just means sharing some wisdom about the world. You don’t need to transform what’s around you to make a difference. It’s enough to just push things in the right direction. In my experience this is how cultural change takes place, not from massive awareness campaigns (though those do help bootstrap the initiative) but from small conversations between people who care about one another.

I don’t believe all problems can be fixed this way, sometimes a module in your application needs to be rewritten and I believe me I have no idea how to bend that part of the metaphor to talking about your friends.

✌️ bf

July 16, 2019

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Thoughts on a good life, amateur philosophy, self-optimisation, making video games, music, software engineering, user interfaces and more.